WASHINGTON — For the second straight year, millions of Social Security recipients, disabled veterans and federal retirees can expect historically small increases in their benefits come January.
Preliminary figures suggest a benefit increase of roughly 1.5 percent, which would be among the smallest since automatic increases were adopted in 1975, according to an analysis by The Associated Press.
Next year’s raise will be small because consumer prices, as measured by the government, haven’t gone up much in the past year.
The exact size of the cost-of-living adjustment, or COLA, won’t be known until the Labor Department releases the inflation report for September. That was supposed to happen Wednesday, but the report was delayed indefinitely because of the partial government shutdown.
The COLA is usually announced in October to give Social Security and other benefit programs time to adjust January payments. The Social Security Administration has given no indication that raises would be delayed because of the shutdown, but advocates for seniors said the uncertainty was unwelcome.
Social Security benefits have continued during the shutdown.
More than one-fifth of the country is waiting for the news.
Nearly 58 million retirees, disabled workers, spouses and children get Social Security benefits. The average monthly payment is $1,162. A 1.5 percent raise would increase the typical monthly payment by about $17.
The COLA also affects benefits for more than 3 million disabled veterans, about 2.5 million federal retirees and their survivors, and more than 8 million people who get Supplemental Security Income, the disability program for the poor.
Automatic COLAs were adopted so benefits for people on fixed incomes would keep up with rising prices. Many seniors, however, complain the COLA sometimes falls short, leaving them little wiggle room.
Since 1975, annual Social Security raises have averaged 4.1 percent. Only six times have they been less than 2 percent, including this year, when the increase was 1.7 percent. There was no COLA in 2010 or 2011 because inflation was too low.
Once the September report, the final piece of the puzzle, is released, the COLA can be announced officially. If prices continued to slowly inch up in September, that would put the COLA at roughly 1.5 percent.